The bestselling horror author of all time, Stephen King, is known for his prolific output of work. As of summer 2015, he has published 54 novels and over 200 short stories. While King himself says that many of his books are like “a Big Mac”, he actually has a rich and complex universe that connects many, if not all of his stories. These are some of the most interesting and intriguing ties between Stephen King’s stories.
10. The Towns
One thing that connects most of Stephen King’s books and short stories is that they take place in fictional towns in Maine. There are three main towns that King uses – Derry, Castle Rock and Jerusalem’s Lot. Derry is the setting for It, Insomnia, Bag of Bones, Dreamcatcher and Fair Extension. Castle Rock is the setting for a number of short stories and novels like The Dead Zone, Cujo, Needful Things and part of The Dark Half. Jerusalem’s Lot is the setting for ‘Salem’s Lot, plus two short stories. Besides the main towns, there is also Chamberlain, which was the setting for Carrie; Ludlow was the setting for Pet Sematary, Tommyknockers and some of The Dark Half. Dolores Claiborne and Storm of the Century are set in Little Tall Island, and finally, Chester’s Mill is the city that is Under the Dome. This fictional Maine runs parallel to our own. For example, King said that Derry is his version of Bangor, Maine.
While having a common setting isn’t all that mind-blowing, it’s astonishing how many times these cities are referenced throughout the works. There are books that do not take place in any of these towns, but reference them or the characters have a backstory involved with the fictional Maine towns.
One of King’s most critically acclaimed novels that he’s published recently is 11/22/63. The story follows Jacob “Jake” Epping, who can time travel and decides to stop the Kennedy assassination, which happened on November 22, 1963 (hence the title). The book, which isn’t set in any of the familiar King towns, does have a number of connections to Derry. For example, he comes across two characters from Derry – Richie Tozier and Bev Marsh, both are characters that battled Pennywise in It. In 11/22/63, Richie and Bev talk about clowns, the Barren (both references to It) and a turtle. The turtle is Maturin, which is one of the 12 guardians of the six beams of the Dark Tower and is an incredibly important figure in King’s universe, which will be discussed in a later entry. T
his is just a small Easter egg that shows how Kings characters can be appear at any given time.
8. Hearts in Atlantis
Hearts in Atlantis is a rather strange book in King’s canon. Published in 1999, it is two novellas and three short stories. The stories have a sci-fi and horror feel to them, but they are not outright genre stories. So while it’s nowhere near King’s most popular book, it has a few interesting connections that show how expansive King’s universe is.
For example, in the first story in the collection, there are some mysterious men who are stalking the character Ted Brautigan. Brautigan refers to them as “low men.” These low men have an interesting position in the King universe, mostly because they serve The Crimson King, who is an important figure in The Dark Tower series. Ted knows about the low men because he is a psychic known as a “Breaker.” Prior to Hearts in Atlantis, Ted was imprisoned and forced to help break the beams that hold up the Dark Tower, but he was liberated.
These low men also appear in King’s 1996 novel Desperation and one of the low men may have owned the car from the 2002 novel From a Buick 8.
7. Rita Hayworth and the Shawshank Redemption
Stephen King is obviously known for his contributions to horror, sci-fi and fantasy, but he also has written outside those genres. One of his more popular and well known stories is the novella Rita Hayworth and the Shawshank Redemption, which appears in the collection Different Seasons and was also made into the beloved 1994 film The Shawshank Redemption. What’s interesting is that, even though there aren’t any paranormal or supernatural elements, stories like Shawshank still connect with the larger King universe.
For example, Eddie Corcoran, who is one of the kids in It, has a step-father who did time in Shawshank. Also, Andy Dufresne is mentioned in Apt Pupil; he set up a stock portfolio for the Nazi character, Kurt Dussander. Finally, there is 11/22/63 where early in the story Jake travels to Derry to stop a murder. On his trip, he encounters criminals who are terrified of going to Shawshank prison.
6. The Shop
Stephen King’s sixth novel that was published in 1980 is Firestarter. This is where readers are first introduced to U.S. Department of Scientific Intelligence, better known as The Shop. It is a shadowy organization, often involved in fringe science and the paranormal. In Firestarter, The Shop is after Charlie McGee, who has pyrokinetic ability, and her father.
The Shop is also the sinister organization chasing after Harlan Williams (Keith Szarabajka) in the television miniseries King wrote called The Golden Years. They are also the bad guys in the adaptation of The Lawnmower Man.
In other stories, The Shop may be involved, but they are often relegated to the background. For example, in the short story “The Mist,” it is hinted that they were responsible for the monsters. The Shop was also supposed to stop the plague in The Stand, but failed. In The Tommyknockers, it is theorized by a character that The Shop may be involved in the strange occurrences, but The Shop’s relationship with the events are unclear. Finally, in The Langoliers, one of the characters also believes the events in the story are related to The Shop. With The Shop popping up every so often, it is possible that they are involved in many more events in the universe, but do so behind the scene.
It is considered one of the best standalone novels written by King and it was his eleventh book. It is also one of his longest; copies are generally over 1,400 pages long. Not only is the book one of his best, it is also a large hub for connections in the King Universe. For example, the father of the character Mike Hanlon served in the Army and he mentions an Army chef he used to know, a man named Dick Hallorann. Dick Hallorann is the chef in The Shining who tells Danny about his special power.
Another character who is connected to the children in It is Paul Sheldon. Sheldon grew up in Derry next door to Eddie Kaspbrak, who was one of the children who had to battle It/Pennywise. Sheldon would go on to appear in his own Stephen King story; he is the author who is held captive by Annie Wilkes in Misery.
Finally, another interesting connection in It is the connection to The Dark Tower series. In The Dark Tower VII: The Dark Tower, the main protagonist, Roland Deschain comes across Dandelo, which is a creature with very similar powers to the titular creature, It, or also known as Pennywise the Dancing Clown. What’s interesting is that when Dandelo gets killed, he turns into a clown, leading some people to think that Dandelo and It are the same entity. However, King said that Dendelo and Pennywise were not the same character, but says they are the same species. A clue that adds to the idea that they Dandelo and It are related happens at the end of It, when it is revealed that Pennywise laid eggs under a house in Derry. Derry is believed to be one of the portals to the All-World universe (where the Dark Tower series takes place), meaning that it’s possible that Dendelo is a child of Pennywise.
4. The Crimson King
The Crimson King is a powerful shape shifting entity and he is the main antagonist in The Dark Tower series. However, readers don’t get introduced to the Crimson King until much later in the series, though his existence is hinted about all the way back to the first book in The Dark Tower series, The Gunslinger, which was published in 1982. At first, he’s introduced as a mysterious entity that can make people do his bidding. He wasn’t officially featured until 1991 in a standalone novel called Insomnia. In Insomnia, he is trying to kill a boy named Patrick Danville because there is a prophecy that says Patrick will save two people who will later thwart The Crimson King.
The Crimson King’s next appearance was in 2001’s Black House, which is a sequel to 1984’s The Talisman. In Black House, The Crimson King is using an agent to find children that are like Ted Brautigan in Hearts in Atlantis; they are Breakers. These Breakers bring us to The Crimson King’s goal in The Dark Tower series, which is to bring down the Dark Tower itself. The Dark Tower holds reality and all the universes together. The Dark Tower is held up by six beams and they are protected by 12 guardians. Using the psychic power of the Breakers, The Crimson King wants to break the beams and it will destroy the universe, leading to a primordial chaos called Discordia, in which The Crimson King would rule.
As mentioned earlier, The Crimson King didn’t appear until much later in the Dark Tower series, in fact, he wasn’t in a Dark Tower book until 2004’s The Dark Tower VII: The Dark Tower. So even when the Dark Tower series isn’t going on, the plot of any King story could be pushed along by an agent of the Crimson King who is trying to destroy the entire universe.
3. The Dark Tower
As you have probably noticed, the Dark Tower, both the series and the physical building, are the pinnacle that holds King’s universe together. This brings us to Stephen King’s levels of mortality and power. There are the “short-timers” which are humans. Humans are located on the bottom of the Dark Tower and most can only perceive the beings and events that happen on the first and the level above them, which are called the “long-timers.” A notable long timer that appears in nine different stories, sometimes under different names, including just his initials R.F., is Randall Flagg who made his first appearance in 1978’s The Stand as a demonic figure that goes around causing problems. His next appearance is in the Gunslinger as the Man in Black, the main antagonist who is trying to stop Roland from reaching the Dark Tower. Randall wants to make it there first because he wants to move from a long-timer sorcerer to the next level. That next level is All-Timers, which is characters like The Crimson King and quite possibly It/Pennywise. What’s interesting is that there are even levels above the All-Timers, but they are never explained, possibly because the All-Timers are not aware of them.
2. The Multiverse
One of the more fascinating aspects of the whole King universe is that it isn’t one single universe; in fact, it is a multiverse. There is the mainstream reality, which is where most of the stories take place and it is very similar to the real world. But there are two other very interesting realities that run parallel to the mainstream world. In King mythology, before there was anything, there was an entity referred to as “the darkness behind everything” called Prim. From Prim, a force called Gan arose and created the All-World. The All-World is where The Dark Tower series takes place and it is hinted that the Dark Tower is the embodiment of Gan. Gan is also considered a good God-like being.
As mentioned before, the Dark Tower is held up by six beams and it has 12 guardians. One of those guardians is a turtle named Maturin, who had a stomach ache and threw up. His vomit was actually another universe, called the Keystone Universe. In the Keystone universe, there is a fictional version of Stephen King. Gan got King to write about Roland Deschain to give him direction in his quest. If King were to die before completing his task, then The Crimson King would win and the Dark Tower would be destroyed.
Beyond those three main universes, there are other minor universes as well. For example, there are eight parallel universes in the Kindle novel Ur. In one of them, William Shakespeare lived for a little bit longer and wrote two more plays. Where things get more complicated is that some characters can traverse through different universes in a process called “going Todash.” Certain characters can do this by using magical items or because of powerful events. This means that any of King’s stories are connected, even if universes run parallel to each other.
1. The Purpose and The Random
In the King universe, there is a larger and grander set of forces that seem to affect everything in the universe. It is referred to as the Purpose and the Random. The Purpose is order and structure, while The Random is chaos and can be considered evil. They are compared to the squares on a checker board, two very defining binaries and both have agents that spread Purpose and Randomness throughout the multiverse.
For example, Clotho and Lachesis, who appear in Insomnia, are agents of Purpose. Attached to Purpose are “cords” and these cords are people’s lives. Once someone dies, Clotho and Lachesis cut the cords and send the people to “other worlds.” On the other end of the spectrum, Atropos is an agent of Random and he can also cut cords, but since it is random, anything could happen. For example, Atropos cut the cord of Ed Deepneau, who is one of the antagonists in Insomnia. In doing so, it creates consequences that help thwart The Crimson King’s attempt to kill Patrick Danville. Patrick Danville would go on to help two characters in The Dark Tower series, and those characters were able to help stop The Crimson King from destroying the Dark Tower.
But there are forces even above the Purpose and the Reason called Higher Purpose and Higher Random. Higher Random consists of characters like The Crimson King and It, while Higher Purpose would be characters like Gan and Maturin the Turtle. They are all powerful, God-like beings that battle trying to establish order and chaos. This Higher Purpose and Higher Random could mean that everything that happens in every single Stephen King story happens because of influence and direction from the Higher Purpose and the Higher Reason.